Bottled water is the fastest growing beverage in the world.
In fact, consumption of bottled water surpassed the consumption of carbonated soft drink sales in 2015, according to research by GlobalData, a data gathering and consumer research organization.
But just how much safer is bottled water than regular, ole tap water? Is it safer?
A Harrison County seventh-grader sought to get to the bottom of that question as part of his science fair project.
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“I wanted to know if the water I’m drinking is safe. That’s where my project started,” D’Iberville Middle School student Gavin Vassalli said.
Gavin, with a little help from his mom, dad and science teacher, Patti Brooks, got his own water testing equipment and spent about two months testing the tap water in West Jackson County, D’Iberville, Biloxi and Wiggins. He compared the water quality to three widely available bottled water brands, Aquafina, Sam’s Choice and Niagra.
To start, Gavin offered a hypothesis: “If I test eight drinking water samples from various locations, then it will prove that bottled water would be the safest to drink over tap water.”
He then tested for contaminants and metals. He examined pH and alkalinity levels. He created a logbook, abstract book and research book. Next, he separated his findings by tap water location and bottled water brand.
Surprisingly, Gavin found that within his sample set, it was actually safer to drink tap water over bottled water.
Gavin based his findings on a fundamental fact. While neither his bottled water nor tap water samples are considered unsafe to drink, he learned that the pH levels in the bottled water he tested was lower than any of the tap water samples he looked at.
Bacteria are more likely to grow and spread in water with a lower pH level.
“I was surprised,” Gavin said. “No one was expecting those results. My science teacher (Patti Brooks) was surprised.”
Harrison County Water Systems Manager David Perkins said he also found the results surprising.
“There are many variables that go into determining water quality and safety,” Perkins said. “But based on the pH levels alone, his conclusion is a safe one to draw between the two.”
Gavin wrote: “I can conclude after the tests, that bottled water is not the safest. Both types of bottled water had a low alkalinity and pH levels, which can lead to an unhealthy environment in the body where diseases and bacteria can thrive.”
Fact vs. fiction
The bottled water industry has on its side millions of dollars in advertising, giving them a leg up on city and county utility departments. The product is often advertised as “pure” or the result of a “rigorous purification system,” leaving many to conclude the water is of a better quality than tap water.
Upon research, Gavin proved that’s not always the case.
After winning the regional science fair, Gavin earned a second place finish in state at the 2017 Science and Engineering Fair.
He said he is already gearing up for next year’s science fair where he plans to further his water examination.